The high tea trend has been around for quite some time in Cape Town. Dainty cakes paired with exotic teas, offered by exclusive venues across the city. It’s an indulgence that many locals and visitors alike have enjoyed. Some may even say that a trip to the Mother City isn’t complete without it.
But we’re about to change everything you may think you know about high tea in Cape Town.
At Hazendal, we believe that you haven’t experienced high tea properly until you’ve experienced the art of the Russian tea ceremony. Captivating and unique, it’s a ceremony unlike any other.
How does a Russian tea ceremony differ from a traditional high tea?
“Tea is the elixir of life.” – Lao Tzu
There are many special and intricate traditions that make up the Russian tea ceremony. It’s not only about indulging taste buds alone, but your other senses too.
Take, for instance, the artistry of the traditional, colourful samovar. This ubiquitous Russian teapot is a central part of the tea ceremony, and decorated with baranki biscuits that symbolise wealth and prosperity.
The samovar takes pride place in the centre of the table. This special tea apparatus is used to boil water and to keep the water hot for dispensing at a moment's notice.
Black loose leaf tea concentrate (zavarka) is placed into a teapot attached to the top of the samovar, and brewed to the perfect strength.
A samovar can come in different body shapes and designs, which creates the vessel’s distinctive ‘song’ when the water starts to boil. Sight, sound, even touch and smell come together to create a delightful experience for all the senses.
The tea ceremony is also a time for family bonding: the tradition has long been associated with friendship, family and hospitality. It is a long-standing Russian tradition to gather the family around the table, the samovar in the centre, and to indulge in this age-old ritual.
The long and intriguing history of Russian tea
It’s not only the ceremony and apparatus that are unique, but the tea itself. Tea has a long and rich heritage in Russia, imbued with centuries of history and tradition.
The beverage is widely considered the country’s national drink – hardly surprising, given Russia’s chilly climate – and an integral part of local culture.
It was first introduced to Russia in the 16th century, but its popularity truly began to soar in the 17th century, when it was available almost exclusively to royalty and extremely wealthy Russians. This was due to the exorbitant cost of tea, as a result of the circuitous trade route from China to Russia via camel caravan.
It was only in the 19th century that tea became more widely accessible to the greater public, due to new and better transport routes via train.
Today, tea is the second most-consumed drink in the world, after water.
The fables of flavour
Certain types of black tea, like the speciality Tsar blend used in Hazendal’s Russian tea, have a rich, smoky intensity to them. There are many stories surrounding the origin of this flavour.
Legend has it that this tea, first produced in China, acquired its distinctive smokiness completely by accident.
According to the myth, an army needed to camp in a tea factory that was full of drying leaves. The tea had to be moved to accommodate the men, and when the soldiers left, the leaves had to be dried quickly. Factory workers lit open fires, using pinewood, to hasten the drying process. It worked, but by the time the tea reached the market, a new flavour had been created.
Other legends have this story playing out on ships, during long voyages when sailors would light fires that would influence the flavour of tea.
The real story is just as interesting, though less steeped in mystery.
When tea was first exported from China to Europe and America, the long voyage caused green tea to quickly deteriorate. It could take up to 18 months to complete the trip, after all.
Chinese tea producers, therefore, needed to come up with a solution – and they did.
They found a way to roll, oxidise and dry the tea in order to help it retain its vitality and quality for longer.
To dry the tea, it was placed in bamboo baskets on racks in drying rooms, which were built over ovens. The ovens were fired with pinewood from the surrounding forests, and heat and smoke would rise up and into the drying rooms. Ultimately, it was the burning of this pine – and its smoky, sappy character – that gave this particular tea its distinctive flavour and aroma.
Hazendal’s own tea blend has its own captivating history. While we can’t give away all our secrets, we can assure you that it’s every bit as intriguing as these tales.
What to expect at a Russian tea ceremony at Hazendal
Naturally, you’ll be served the finest black tea, specially sourced for Hazendal and brewed in a traditional samovar at your table. You’ll also indulge in a variety of decadent savoury and sweet delicacies, including blinis, baranki, and other traditional Russian delights.
Relax in our opulent Avant-Garde venue with views over the tasting lounge and gardens beyond - and in the other direction, our working cellar. Relax and take your time, there is no rush at all.
A special youngsters’ menu is available too, ideal for tween guests, making it the perfect way to bond with your loved ones and enjoy this special time together.